Part 7 out of 8
seldom true to the settled type. All revolt is the expression of strong
individualism--ran his thought vaguely. One can tell them a mile off in any
society, in any surroundings. It was astonishing that the police. . . .
"We shall not meet again very soon, I think," she was saying. "I am leaving
"For Zurich?" Razumov asked casually, but feeling relieved, not from any
distinct apprehension, but from a feeling of stress as if after a wrestling
"Yes, Zurich--and farther on, perhaps, much farther. Another journey. When I
think of all my journeys! The last must come some day. Never mind, Razumov.
We had to have a good long talk. I would have certainly tried to see you if
we had not met. Peter Ivanovitch knows where you live? Yes. I meant to have
asked him--but it's better like this. You see, we expect two more men; and I
had much rather wait here talking with you than up there at the house with. . .
Having cast a glance beyond the gate, she interrupted herself. "Here they
are," she said rapidly. "Well, Kirylo Sidorovitch, we shall have to say
In his incertitude of the ground on which he stood Razumov felt perturbed.
Turning his head quickly, he saw two men on the opposite side of the road.
Seeing themselves noticed by Sophia Antonovna, they crossed over at once, and
passed one after another through the little gate by the side of the empty
lodge. They looked hard at the stranger, but without mistrust, the crimson
blouse being a flaring safety signal. The first, great white hairless face,
double chin, prominent stomach, which he seemed to carry forward consciously
within a strongly distended overcoat, only nodded and averted his eyes
peevishly; his companion--lean, flushed cheekbones, a military red moustache
below a sharp, salient nose--approached at once Sophia Antonovna, greeting her
warmly. His voice was very strong but inarticulate. It sounded like a deep
buzzing. The woman revolutionist was quietly cordial.
"This is Razumov," she announced in a clear voice.
The lean new-comer made an eager half-turn. "He will want to embrace me,"
thought our young man with a deep recoil of all his being, while his limbs
seemed too heavy to move. But it was a groundless alarm. He had to do now
with a generation of conspirators who did not kiss each other on both cheeks;
and raising an arm that felt like lead he dropped his hand into a
largely-outstretched palm, fleshless and hot as if dried up by fever, giving a
bony pressure, expressive, seeming to say, "Between us there's no need of
words." The man had big, wide-open eyes. Razumov fancied he could see a smile
behind their sadness.
"This is Razumov," Sophia Antonovna repeated loudly for the benefit of the fat
man, who at some distance displayed the profile of his stomach.
No one moved. Everything, sounds, attitudes, movements, and immobility seemed
to be part of an experiment, the result of which was a thin voice piping with
"Oh yes! Razumov. We have been hearing of nothing but Mr. Razumov for months.
For my part, I confess I would rather have seen Haldin on this spot instead of
The squeaky stress put on the name "Razumov--Mr. Razumov" pierced the ear
ridiculously, like the falsetto of a circus clown beginning an elaborate joke.
Astonishment was Razumov's first response, followed by sudden indignation.
"What's the meaning of this?" he asked in a stern tone.
"Tut! Silliness. He's always like that." Sophia Antonovna was obviously
vexed. But she dropped the information, "Necator," from her lips just loud
enough to be heard by Razumov. The abrupt squeaks of the fat man seemed to
proceed from that thing like a balloon he carried under his overcoat. The
stolidity of his attitude, the big feet, the lifeless, hanging hands, the
enormous bloodless cheek, the thin wisps of hair straggling down the fat nape
of the neck, fascinated Razumov into a stare on the verge of horror and
Nikita, surnamed Necator, with a sinister aptness of alliteration! Razumov had
heard of him. He had heard so much since crossing the frontier of these
celebrities of the militant revolution; the legends, the stories, the authentic
chronicle, which now and then peeps out before a half-incredulous world.
Razumov had heard of him. He was supposed to have killed more, gendarmes and
police agents than any revolutionist living. He had been entrusted with
The paper with the letters N.N., the very pseudonym of murder, found pinned on
the stabbed breast of a certain notorious spy (this picturesque detail of a
sensational murder case had got into the newspapers), was the mark of his
handiwork. "By order of the Committee.--N.N." A corner of the curtain lifted
to strike the imagination of the gaping world. He was said to have been
innumerable times in and out of Russia, the Necator of bureaucrats, of
provincial governors, of obscure informers. He lived between whiles, Razumov
had heard, on the shores of the Lake of Como, with a charming wife, devoted to
the cause, and two young children. But how could that creature, so grotesque
as to set town dogs barking at its mere sight, go about on those deadly errands
and slip through the meshes of the police?"
"What now? what now?" the voice squeaked. "I am only sincere. It's not denied
that the other was the leading spirit. Well, it would have been better if he
had been the one spared to us. More useful. I am not a sentimentalist. Say
what I think. . . only natural."
Squeak, squeak, squeak, without a gesture, without a stir--the horrible squeaky
burlesque of professional jealousy--this man of a sinister alliterative
nickname, this executioner of revolutionary verdicts, the terrifying N.N.
exasperated like a fashionable tenor by the attention attracted to the
performance of an obscure amateur. Sophia Antonovna shrugged her shoulders.
The comrade with the martial red moustache hurried towards Razumov full of
conciliatory intentions in his strong buzzing voice.
"Devil take it! And in this place, too, in the public street, so to speak.
But you can see yourself how it is. One of his fantastic sallies. Absolutely
of no consequence."
"Pray don't concern yourself," cried Razumov, going off into a long fit of
laughter. "Don't mention it."
The other, his hectic flush like a pair of burns on his cheek-bones, stared for
a moment and burst out laughing too. Razumov, whose hilarity died out all at
once, made a step forward.
"Enough of this," he began in a clear, incisive voice, though he could hardly
control the trembling of his legs. "I will have no more of it. I shall not
permit anyone. . . . I can see very well what you are at with those allusions.
. . . Inquire, investigate! I defy you, but I will not be played with."
He had spoken such words before. He had been driven to cry them out in the
face of other suspicions. It was an infernal cycle bringing round that protest
like a fatal necessity of his existence. But it was no use. He would be
always played with. Luckily life does not last for ever.
"I won't have it!" he shouted, striking his fist into the palm of his other
"Kirylo Sidorovitch--what has come to you?" The woman revolutionist interfered
with authority. They were all looking at Razumov now; the slayer of spies and
gendarmes had turned about, presenting his enormous stomach in full, like a
"Don't shout. There are people passing." Sophia Antonovna was apprehensive of
another outburst. A steam-launch from Monrepos had come to the landing-stage
opposite the gate, its hoarse whistle and the churning noise alongside all
unnoticed, had landed a small bunch of local passengers who were dispersing
their several ways. Only a specimen of early tourist in knickerbockers,
conspicuous by a brand-new yellow leather glass-case, hung about for a moment,
scenting something unusual about these four people within the rusty iron gates
of what looked the grounds run wild of an unoccupied private house. Ah! If he
had only known what the chance of commonplace travelling had suddenly put in
his way! But he was a well-bred person; he averted his gaze and moved off with
short steps along the avenue, on the watch for a tramcar.
A gesture from Sophia Antonovna, "Leave him to me," had sent the two men
away--the buzzing of the inarticulate voice growing fainter and fainter, and
the thin pipe of "What now? what's the matter?" reduced to the proportions of a
squeaking toy by the distance. They had left him to her. So many things could
be left safely to the experience of Sophia Antonovna. And at once, her black
eyes turned to Razumov, her mind tried to get at the heart of that outburst.
It had some meaning. No one is born an active revolutionist. The change
comes disturbingly, with the force of a sudden vocation, bringing in its train
agonizing doubts, assertive violences, an unstable state of the soul, till the
final appeasement of the convert in the perfect fierceness of conviction. She
had seen--often had only divined--scores of these young men and young women
going through an emotional crisis. This young man looked like a moody egotist.
And besides, it was a special--a unique case. She had never met an
individuality which interested and puzzled her so much.
"Take care, Razumov, my good friend. If you carry on like this you will go
mad. You are angry with everybody and bitter with yourself, and on the look
out for something to torment yourself with."
"It's intolerable!" Razumov could only speak in gasps. " You must admit that
I can have no illusions on the attitude which. . . it isn't clear. . . or
rather only too clear."
He made a gesture of despair. It was not his courage that failed him. The
choking fumes of falsehood had taken him by the throat--the thought of being
condemned to struggle on and on in that tainted atmosphere without the hope of
ever renewing his strength by a breath of fresh air.
"A glass of cold water is what you want." Sophia Antonovna glanced up the
grounds at the house and shook her head, then out of the gate at the brimful
placidity of the lake. With a half-comical shrug of the shoulders, she gave
the remedy up in the face of that abundance.
"It is you, my dear soul, who are flinging yourself at something which does not
exist. What is it? Self-reproach, or what? It's absurd. You couldn't have
gone and given yourself up because your comrade was taken."
She remonstrated with him reasonably, at some length too. He had nothing to
complain of in his reception. Every new-comer was discussed more or less.
Everybody had to be thoroughly understood before being accepted. No one that
she could remember had been shown from the first so much confidence. Soon,
very soon, perhaps sooner than he expected, he would be given an opportunity of
showing his devotion to the sacred task of crushing the Infamy.
Razumov, listening quietly, thought: "It may be that she is trying to lull my
suspicions to sleep. On the other hand, it is obvious that most of them are
fools." He moved aside a couple of paces and, folding his arms on his breast,
leaned back against the stone pillar of the gate.
"As to what remains obscure in the fate of that poor Haldin," Sophia Antonovna
dropped into a slowness of utterance which was to Razumov like the falling of
molten lead drop by drop; "as to that--though no one ever hinted that either
from fear or neglect your conduct has not been what it should have been--well,
I have a bit of intelligence. . . ."
Razumov could not prevent himself from raising his head, and Sophia Antonovna
"I have. You remember that letter from St. Petersburg I mentioned to you a
"The letter? Perfectly. Some busybody has been reporting my conduct on a
certain day. It's rather sickening. I suppose our police are greatly edified
when they open these interesting and--and--superfluous letters."
"Oh dear no! The police do not get hold of our letters as easily as you
imagine. The letter in question did not leave St. Petersburg till the ice
broke up. It went by the first English steamer which left the Neva this
spring. They have a fireman on board--one of us, in fact. It has reached me
from Hull. . . ."
She paused as if she were surprised at the sullen fixity of Razumov's gaze, but
went on at once, and much faster.
"We have some of our people there who . . . but never mind. The writer of the
letter relates an incident which he thinks may possibly be connected with
Haldin's arrest. I was just going to tell you when those two men came along."
"That also was an incident," muttered Razumov, "of a very charming kind--for
"Leave off that!" cried Sophia Antonovna." Nobody cares for Nikita's barking.
There's no malice in him. Listen to what I have to say. You may be able to
throw a light. There was in St. Petersburg a sort of town peasant--a man who
owned horses. He came to town years ago to work for some relation as a driver
and ended by owning a cab or two."
She might well have spared herself the slight effort of the gesture: "Wait!"
Razumov did not mean to speak; he could not have interrupted her now, not to
save his life. The contraction of his facial muscles had been involuntary, a
mere surface stir, leaving him sullenly attentive as before.
"He was not a quite ordinary man of his class--it seems," she went on. " The
people of the house--my informant talked with many of them--you know, one of
those enormous houses of shame and misery. . . ."
Sophia Antonovna need not have enlarged on the character of the house. Razumov
saw clearly, towering at her back, a dark mass of masonry veiled in snowflakes,
with the long row of windows of the eating-shop shining greasily very near the
ground. The ghost of that night pursued him. He stood up to it with rage and
"Did the late Haldin ever by chance speak to you of that house?" Sophia
Antonovna was anxious to know.
"Yes." Razumov, making that answer, wondered whether he were falling into a
trap. It was so humiliating to lie to these people that he probably could not
have said no. "He mentioned to me once," he added, as if making an effort of
memory, " a house of that sort. He used to visit some workmen there."
Sophia Antonovna triumphed. Her correspondent had discovered that fact quite
accidentally from the talk of the people of the house, having made friends with
a workman who occupied a room there. They described Haldin's appearance
perfectly. He brought comforting words of hope into their misery. He came
irregularly, but he came very often, and--her correspondent wrote--sometimes he
spent a night in the house, sleeping, they thought, in a stable which opened
upon the inner yard.
"Note that, Razumov! In a stable."
Razumov had listened with a sort of ferocious but amused acquiescence.
"Yes. In the straw. It was probably the cleanest spot in the whole house."
"No doubt," assented the woman with that deep frown which seemed to draw closer
together her black eyes in a sinister fashion. No four-footed beast could
stand the filth and wretchedness so many human beings were condemned to suffer
from in Russia. The point of this discovery was that it proved Haldin to have
been familiar with that horse-owning peasant--a reckless, independent,
free-living fellow not much liked by the other inhabitants of the house. He
was believed to have been the associate of a band of housebreakers. Some of
these got captured. Not while he was driving them, however; but still there
was a suspicion against the fellow of having given a hint to the police and. .
The woman revolutionist checked herself suddenly.
"And you? Have you ever heard your friend refer to a certain Ziemianitch?"
Razumov was ready for the name. He had been looking out for the question.
"When it comes I shall own up," he had said to himself. But he took his time.
"To be sure!" he began slowly. "Ziemianitch, a peasant owning a team of
horses. Yes. On one occasion. Ziemianitch! Certainly! Ziemianitch of the
horses. . . . How could it have slipped my memory like this? One of the last
conversations we had together."
"That means,"--Sophia Antonovna looked very grave,--"that means, Razumov, it
was very shortly before--eh?"
"Before what?" shouted Razumov, advancing at the woman, who looked astonished
but stood her ground. "Before. . . . Oh! Of course, it was before! How could
it have been after? Only a few hours before."
"And he spoke of him favourably?"
"With enthusiasm! The horses of Ziemianitch! The free soul of Ziemianitch!"
Razumov took a savage delight in the loud utterance of that name, which had
never before crossed his lips audibly. He fixed his blazing eyes on the woman
till at last her fascinated expression recalled him to himself.
"The late Haldin," he said, holding himself in, with downcast eyes, "was
inclined to take sudden fancies to people, on--on--what shall I
"There!" Sophia Antonovna clapped her hands. "That, to my mind, settles it.
The suspicions of my correspondent were aroused. . . ."
"Aha! Your correspondent," Razumov said in an almost openly mocking tone. "
What suspicions? How aroused? By this Ziemianitch? Probably some drunken,
gabbling, plausible. . . ."
"You talk as if you had known him."
Razumov looked up.
"No. But I knew Haldin."
Sophia Antonovna nodded gravely.
"I see. Every word you say confirms to my mind the suspicion communicated to
me in that very interesting letter. This Ziemianitch was found one morning
hanging from a hook in the stable--dead."
Razumov felt a profound trouble. It was visible, because Sophia Antonovna was
moved to observe vivaciously--
"Aha! You begin to see."
He saw it clearly enough--in the light of a lantern casting spokes of shadow in
a cellar-like stable, the body in a sheepskin coat and long boots hanging
against the wall. A pointed hood, with the ends wound about up to the eyes,
hid the face. "But that does not concern me," he reflected. "It does not
affect my position at all. He never knew who had thrashed him. He could not
have known." Razumov felt sorry for the old lover of the bottle and women.
"Yes. Some of them end like that," he muttered. "What is your idea, Sophia
It was really the idea of her correspondent, but Sophia Antonovna had adopted
it fully. She stated it in one word--"Remorse." Razumov opened his eyes very
wide at that. Sophia Antonovna's informant, by listening to the talk of the
house, by putting this and that together, had managed to come very near to the
truth of Haldin's relation to Ziemianitch.
"It is I who can tell you what you were not certain of--that your friend had
some plan for saving himself afterwards, for getting out of St. Petersburg, at
any rate. Perhaps that and no more, trusting to luck for the rest. And that
fellow's horses were part of the plan."
"They have actually got at the truth," Razumov marvelled to himself, while he
nodded judicially. "Yes, that's possible, very possible." But the woman
revolutionist was very positive that it was so. First of all, a conversation
about horses between Haldin and Ziemianitch had been partly overheard. Then
there were the suspicions of the people in the house when their "young
gentleman" (they did not know Haldin by his name) ceased to call at the house.
Some of them used to charge Ziemianitch with knowing something of this
absence. He denied it with exasperation; but the fact was that ever since
Haldin's disappearance he was not himself, growing moody and thin. Finally,
during a quarrel with some woman (to whom he was making up), in which most of
the inmates of the house took part apparently, he was openly abused by his
chief enemy, an athletic pedlar, for an informer, and for having driven '' our
young gentleman to Siberia, the same as you did those young fellows who broke
into houses." In consequence of this there was a fight, and Ziemianitch got
flung down a flight of stairs. Thereupon he drank and moped for a week, and
then hanged himself.
Sophia Antonovna drew her conclusions from the tale. She charged Ziemianitch
either with drunken indiscretion as to a driving job on a certain date,
overheard by some spy in some low grog-shop--perhaps in the very eating-shop on
the ground floor of the house--or, maybe, a downright denunciation, followed by
remorse. A man like that would be capable of anything. People said he was a
flighty old chap. And if he had been once before mixed up with the police--as
seemed certain, though he always denied it--in connexion with these thieves, he
would be sure to be acquainted with some police underlings, always on the look
out for something to report. Possibly at first his tale was not made anything
of till the day that scoundrel de P--- got his deserts. Ah! But then every
bit and scrap of hint and information would be acted on, and fatally they were
bound to get Haldin.
Sophia Antonovna spread out her hands--" Fatally."
Fatality--chance! Razumov meditated in silent astonishment upon the queer
verisimilitude of these inferences. They were obviously to his advantage.
"It is right now to make this conclusive evidence known generally." Sophia
Antonovna was very calm and deliberate again. She had received the letter
three days ago, but did not write at once to Peter Ivanovitch. She knew then
that she would have the opportunity presently of meeting several men of action
assembled for an important purpose.
"I thought it would be more effective if I could show the letter itself at
large. I have it in my pocket now. You understand how pleased I was to come
Razumov was saying to himself," She won't offer to show the letter to me. Not
likely. Has she told me everything that correspondent of hers has found out?"
He longed to see the letter, but he felt he must not ask.
"Tell me, please, was this an investigation ordered, as it were?"
"No, no," she protested. "There you are again with your sensitiveness. It
makes you stupid. Don't you see, there was no starting-point for an
investigation even if any one had thought of it. A perfect blank! That's
exactly what some people were pointing out as the reason for receiving you
cautiously. It was all perfectly accidental, arising from my informant
striking an acquaintance with an intelligent skindresser lodging in that
particular slum-house. A wonderful coincidence!"
"A pious person," suggested Razumov, with a pale smile, "would say that the
hand of God has done it all."
"My poor father would have said that." Sophia Antonovna did not smile. She
dropped her eyes." Not that his God ever helped him. It's a long time since
God has done anything for the people. Anyway, it's done."
"All this would be quite final," said Razumov, with every appearance of
reflective impartiality, "if there was any certitude that the 'our young
gentleman' of these people was Victor Haldin. Have we got that?"
"Yes. There's no mistake. My correspondent was as familiar with Haldin's
personal appearance as with your own," the woman affirmed decisively.
"It's the red-nosed fellow beyond a doubt," Razumov said to himself, with
reawakened uneasiness. Had his own visit to that accursed house passed
unnoticed? It was barely possible. Yet it was hardly probable. It was just
the right sort of food for the popular gossip that gaunt busybody had been
picking up. But the letter did not seem to contain any allusion to that.
Unless she had suppressed it. And, if so, why? If it had really escaped the
prying of that hunger-stricken democrat with a confounded genius for
recognizing people from description, it could only be for a time. He would
come upon it presently and hasten to write another letter--and then!
For all the envenomed recklessness of his temper, fed on hate and disdain,
Razumov shuddered inwardly. It guarded him from common fear, but it could not
defend him from disgust at being dealt with in any way by these people. It was
a sort of superstitious dread. Now, since his position had been made more
secure by their own folly at the cost of Ziemianitch, he felt the need of
perfect safety, with its freedom from direct lying, with its power of moving
amongst them silent, unquestioning, listening, impenetrable, like the very fate
of their crimes and their folly. Was this advantage his already? Or not yet?
Or never would be?
"Well, Sophia Antonovna," his air of reluctant concession was genuine in so far
that he was really loath to part with her without testing her sincerity by a
question it was impossible to bring about in any way; "well, Sophia Antonovna,
if that is so, then--"
"The creature has done justice to himself," the woman observed, as if thinking
"What? Ah yes! Remorse," Razumov muttered, with equivocal contempt.
"Don't be harsh, Kirylo Sidorovitch, if you have lost a friend." There was no
hint of softness in her tone, only the black glitter of her eyes seemed
detached for an instant from vengeful visions. "He was a man of the people.
The simple Russian soul is never wholly impenitent. It's something to know
"Consoling?" insinuated Razumov, in a tone of inquiry.
"Leave off railing," she checked him explosively. "Remember, Razumov, that
women, children, and revolutionists hate irony, which is the negation of all
saving instincts, of all faith, of all devotion, of all action. Don't rail!
Leave off. . . . I don't know how it is, but there are moments when you are
abhorrent to me. . . ."
She averted her face. A languid silence, as if all the electricity of the
situation had been discharged in this flash of passion, lasted for some time.
Razumov had not flinched. Suddenly she laid the tips of her fingers on his
"I don't mind," he said very quietly.
He was proud to feel that she could read nothing on his face. He was really
mollified, relieved, if only for a moment, from an obscure oppression. And
suddenly he asked himself, "Why the devil did I go to that house? It was an
imbecile thing to do."
A profound disgust came over him. Sophia Antonovna lingered, talking in a
friendly manner with an evident conciliatory intention. And it was still about
the famous letter, referring to various minute details given by her informant,
who had never seen Ziemianitch. The "victim of remorse" had been buried
several weeks before her correspondent began frequenting the house. It--the
house--contained very good revolutionary material. The spirit of the heroic
Haldin had passed through these dens of black wretchedness with a promise of
universal redemption from all the miseries that oppress mankind. Razumov
listened without hearing, gnawed by the newborn desire of safety with its
independence from that degrading method of direct lying which at times he found
it almost impossible to practice.
No. The point he wanted to hear about could never come into this conversation.
There was no way of bringing it forward. He regretted not having composed a
perfect story for use abroad, in which his fatal connexion with the house might
have been owned up to. But when he left Russia he did not know that
Ziemianitch had hanged himself. And, anyway, who could have foreseen this
woman's "informant" stumbling upon that particular slum, of all the slums
awaiting destruction in the purifying flame of social revolution? Who could
have foreseen? Nobody! "It's a perfect, diabolic surprise," thought Razumov,
calm-faced in his attitude of inscrutable superiority, nodding assent to Sophia
Antonovna's remarks upon the psychology of "the people," "Oh yes--certainly,"
rather coldly, but with a nervous longing in his fingers to tear some sort of
confession out of her throat.
Then, at the very last, on the point of separating, the feeling of relaxed
tension already upon him, he heard Sophia Antonovna allude to the subject of
his uneasiness. How it came about he could only guess, his mind being absent
at the moment, but it must have sprung from Sophia Antonovna's complaints of
the illogical absurdity of the people. For instance--that Ziemianitch was
notoriously irreligious, and yet, in the last weeks of his life, he suffered
from the notion that he had been beaten by the devil.
"The devil," repeated Razumov, as though he had not heard aright.
"The actual devil. The devil in person. You may well look astonished, Kirylo
Sidorovitch. Early on the very night poor Haldin was taken, a complete
stranger turned up and gave Ziemianitch a most fearful thrashing while he was
lying dead-drunk in the stable. The wretched creature's body was one mass of
bruises. He showed them to the people in the house."
"But you, Sophia Antonovna, you don't believe in the actual devil?"
"Do you?" retorted the woman curtly. "Not but that there are plenty of men
worse than devils to make a hell of this earth," she muttered to herself.
Razumov watched her, vigorous and white-haired, with the deep fold between her
thin eyebrows, and her black glance turned idly away. It was obvious that she
did not make much of the story--unless, indeed, this was the perfection of
duplicity. "A dark young man," she explained further. "Never seen there
before, never seen afterwards. Why are you smiling, Razumov?"
"At the devil being still young after all these ages," he answered composedly.
"But who was able to describe him, since the victim, you say, was dead-drunk
at the time?"
"Oh! The eating-house keeper has described him. An overbearing, swarthy young
man in a student's cloak, who came rushing in, demanded Ziemianitch, beat him
furiously, and rushed away without a word, leaving the eating-house keeper
paralysed with astonishment."
"Does he, too, believe it was the devil?"
"That I can't say. I am told he's very reserved on the matter. Those sellers
of spirits are great scoundrels generally. I should think he knows more of it
"Well, and you, Sophia Antonovna, what's your theory?" asked Razumov in a tone
of great interest. "Yours and your informant's, who is on the spot."
"I agree with him. Some police-hound in disguise. Who else could beat a
helpless man so unmercifully? As for the rest, if they were out that day on
every trail, old and new, it is probable enough that they might have thought it
just as well to have Ziemianitch at hand for more information, or for
identification, or what not. Some scoundrelly detective was sent to fetch him
along, and being vexed at finding him so drunk broke a stable fork over his
ribs. Later on, after they had the big game safe in the net, they troubled
their heads no more about that peasant."
Such were the last words of the woman revolutionist in this conversation,
keeping so close to the truth, departing from it so far in the verisimilitude
of thoughts and conclusions as to give one the notion of the invincible nature
of human error, a glimpse into the utmost depths of self-deception. Razumov,
after shaking hands with Sophia Antonovna, left the grounds, crossed the road,
and walking out on the little steamboat pier leaned over the rail.
His mind was at ease; ease such as he had not known for many days, ever since
that night. . . the night. The conversation with the woman revolutionist had
given him the view of his danger at the very moment this danger vanished,
characteristically enough. "I ought to have foreseen the doubts that would
arise in those people's minds," he thought. Then his attention being attracted
by a stone of peculiar shape, which he could see clearly lying at the bottom,
he began to speculate as to the depth of water in that spot. But very soon,
with a start of wonder at this extraordinary instance of ill-timed detachment,
he returned to his train of thought. "I ought to have told very circumstantial
lies from the first," he said to himself, with a mortal distaste of the mere
idea which silenced his mental utterance for quite a perceptible interval.
"Luckily, that's all right now," he reflected, and after a time spoke to
himself, half aloud, "Thanks to the devil," and laughed a little.
The end of Ziemianitch then arrested his wandering thoughts. He was not
exactly amused at the interpretation, but he could not help detecting- in it a
certain piquancy. He owned to himself that, had he known of that suicide
before leaving Russia, he would have been incapable of making such excellent
use of it for his own purposes. He ought to be infinitely obliged to the
fellow with the red nose for his patience and ingenuity, "A wonderful
psychologist apparently," he said to himself sarcastically. Remorse, indeed!
It was a striking example of your true conspirator's blindness, of the stupid
subtlety of people with one idea. This was a drama of love, not of conscience,
Razumov continued to himself mockingly. A woman the old fellow was making up
to! A robust pedlar, clearly a rival, throwing him down a flight of stairs. .
. . And at sixty, for a lifelong lover, it was not an easy matter to get over.
That was a feminist of a different stamp from Peter Ivanovitch. Even the
comfort of the bottle might conceivably fail him in this supreme crisis. At
such an age nothing but a halter could cure the pangs of an unquenchable
passion. And, besides, there was the wild exasperation aroused by the unjust
aspersions and the contumely of the house, with the maddening impossibility to
account for that mysterious thrashing, added to these simple and bitter
sorrows. "Devil, eh?" Razumov exclaimed, with mental excitement, as if he had
made an interesting discovery. "Ziemianitch ended by falling into mysticism.
So many of our true Russian souls end in that way! Very characteristic." He
felt pity for Ziemianitch, a large neutral pity, such as one may feel for an
unconscious multitude, a great people seen from above--like a community of
crawling ants working out its destiny. It was as if this Ziemianitch could not
possibly have done anything else. And Sophia Antonovna's cocksure and
contemptuous "some police-hound" was characteristically Russian in another way.
But there was no tragedy there. This was a comedy of errors. It was as if
the devil himself were playing a game with all of them in turn. First with
him, then with Ziemianitch, then with those revolutionists. The devil's own
game this. . . . He interrupted his earnest mental soliloquy with a jocular
thought at his own expense. "Hallo! I am falling into mysticism too."
His mind was more at ease than ever. Turning about he put his back against the
rail comfortably. "All this fits with marvellous aptness," he continued to
think. "The brilliance of my reputed exploit is no longer darkened by the fate
of my supposed colleague. The mystic Ziemianitch accounts for that. An
incredible chance has served me. No more need of lies. I shall have only to
listen and to keep my scorn from getting the upper hand of my caution."
He sighed, folded his arms, his chin dropped on his breast, and it was a long
time before he started forward from that pose, with the recollection that he
had made up his mind to do something important that day. What it was he could
not immediately recall, yet he made no effort of memory, for he was uneasily
certain that he would remember presently.
He had not gone more than a hundred yards towards the town when he slowed down,
almost faltered in his walk, at the sight of a figure walking in the contrary
direction, draped in a cloak, under a soft, broad-brimmed hat, picturesque but
diminutive, as if seen through the big end of an opera-glass. It was
impossible to avoid that tiny man, for there was no issue for retreat.
"Another one going to that mysterious meeting," thought Razumov. He was right
in his surmise, only _this_ one, unlike the others who came from a distance,
was known to him personally. Still, he hoped to pass on with a mere bow, but
it was impossible to ignore the little thin hand with hairy wrist and knuckles
protruded in a friendly wave from under the folds of the cloak, worn
Spanish-wise, in disregard of a fairly warm day, a corner flung over the
"And how is Herr Razumov?" sounded the greeting in German, by that alone made
more odious to the object of the affable recognition. At closer quarters the
diminutive personage looked like a reduction of an ordinary-sized man, with a
lofty brow bared for a moment by the raising of the hat, the great pepper-and
salt full beard spread over the proportionally broad chest. A fine bold nose
jutted over a thin mouth hidden in the mass of fine hair. All this, accented
features, strong limbs in their relative smallness, appeared delicate without
the slightest sign of debility. The eyes alone, almond-shaped and brown, were
too big, with the whites slightly bloodshot by much pen labour under a lamp.
The obscure celebrity of the tiny man was well known to Razumov. Polyglot, of
unknown parentage, of indefinite nationality, anarchist, with a pedantic and
ferocious temperament, and an amazingly inflammatory capacity for invective, he
was a power in the background, this violent pamphleteer clamouring for
revolutionary justice, this Julius Laspara, editor of the _Living Word_,
confidant of conspirators, inditer of sanguinary menaces and manifestos,
suspected of being in the secret of every plot. Laspara lived in the old town
in a sombre, narrow house presented to him by a naive middle-class admirer of
his humanitarian eloquence. With him lived his two daughters, who overtopped
him head and shoulders, and a pasty-faced, lean boy of six, languishing in the
dark rooms in blue cotton overalls and clumsy boots, who might have belonged to
either one of them or to neither. No stranger could tell. Julius Laspara no
doubt knew which of his girls it was who, after casually vanishing for a few
years, had as casually returned to him possessed of that child; but, with
admirable pedantry, he had refrained from asking her for details--no, not so
much as the name of the father, because maternity should be an anarchist
function. Razumov had been admitted twice to that suite of several small dark
rooms on the top floor: dusty window-panes, litter of all sorts of sweepings
all over the place, half-full glasses of tea forgotten on every table, the two
Laspara daughters prowling about enigmatically silent, sleepy-eyed, corsetless,
and generally, in their want of shape and the disorder of their rumpled attire,
resembling old dolls; the great but obscure Julius, his feet twisted round his
three-legged stool, always ready to receive the visitors, the pen instantly
dropped, the body screwed round with a striking display of the lofty brow and
of the great austere beard. When he got down from his stool it was as though
he had descended from the heights of Olympus. He was dwarfed by his daughters,
by the furniture, by any caller of ordinary stature. But he very seldom left
it, and still more rarely was seen walking in broad daylight.
It must have been some matter of serious importance which had driven him out in
that direction that afternoon. Evidently he wished to be amiable to that young
man whose arrival had made some sensation in the world of political refugees.
In Russian now, which he spoke, as he spoke and wrote four or five other
European languages, without distinction and without force (other than that of
invective), he inquired if Razumov had taken his inscriptions at the University
as yet. And the young man, shaking his head negatively--
"There's plenty of time for that. But, meantime, are you not going to write
something for us?"
He could not understand how any one could refrain from writing on anything,
social, economic, historical--anything. Any subject could be treated in the
right spirit, and for the ends of social revolution. And, as it happened, a
friend of his in London had got in touch with a review of advanced ideas. "We
must educate, educate everybody--develop the great thought of absolute liberty
and of revolutionary justice."
Razumov muttered rather surlily that he did not even know English.
"Write in Russian. We'll have it translated There can be no difficulty. Why,
without seeking further, there is Miss Haldin. My daughters go to see her
sometimes." He nodded significantly. " She does nothing, has never done
anything in her life. She would be quite competent, with a little assistance.
Only write. You know you must. And so good-bye for the present."
He raised his arm and went on. Razumov backed against the low wall, looked
after him, spat violently, and went on his way with an angry mutter--
He did not know anything about it. Julius Laspara might have been a
Transylvanian, a Turk, an Andalusian, or a citizen of one of the Hanse towns
for anything he could tell to the contrary. But this is not a story of the
West, and this exclamation must be recorded, accompanied by the comment that it
was merely an expression of hate and contempt, best adapted to the nature of
the feelings Razumov suffered from at the time. He was boiling with rage, as
though he had been grossly insulted. He walked as if blind, following
instinctively the shore of the diminutive harbour along the quay, through a
pretty, dull garden, where dull people sat on chairs under the trees, till, his
fury abandoning him, he discovered himself in the middle of a long, broad
bridge. He slowed down at once. To his right, beyond the toy-like jetties, he
saw the green slopes framing the Petit Lac in all the marvellous banality of
the picturesque made of painted cardboard, with the more distant stretch of
water inanimate and shining like a piece of tin.
He turned his head away from that view for the tourists, and walked on slowly,
his eyes fixed on the ground. One or two persons had to get out of his way,
and then turned round to give a surprised stare to his profound absorption.
The insistence of the celebrated subversive journalist rankled in his mind
strangely. Write. Must write! He! Write! A sudden light flashed upon him.
To write was the very thing he had made up his mind to do that day. He had
made up his mind irrevocably to that step and then had forgotten all about it.
That incorrigible tendency to escape from the grip of the situation was
fraught with serious danger. He was ready to despise himself for it. What was
it? Levity, or deep-seated weakness? Or an unconscious dread?"
"Is it that I am shrinking? It can't be! It's impossible. To shrink now
would be worse than moral suicide; it would be nothing less than moral
damnation," he thought. "Is it possible that I have a conventional conscience?
He rejected that hypothesis with scorn, and, checked on the edge of the
pavement, made ready to cross the road and proceed up the wide street facing
the head of the bridge; and that for no other reason except that it was there
before him. But at the moment a couple of carriages and a slow-moving cart
interposed, and suddenly he turned sharp to the left, following the quay again,
but now away from the lake.
"It may be just my health," he thought, allowing himself a very unusual doubt
of his soundness; for, with the exception of a childish ailment or two, he had
never been ill in his life. But that was a danger, too. Only, it seemed as
though he were being looked after in a specially remarkable way. "If I
believed in an active Providence," Razumov said to himself, amused grimly, "I
would see here the working of an ironical finger. To have a Julius Laspara put
in my way as if expressly to remind me of my purpose is-- Write, he had said.
I must write--I must, indeed! I shall write--never fear. Certainly. That's
why I am here. And for the future I shall have something to write about."
He was exciting himself by this mental soliloquy. But the idea of writing
evoked the thought of a place to write in, of shelter, of privacy, and
naturally of his lodgings, mingled with a distaste for the necessary exertion
of getting there, with a mistrust as of some hostile influence awaiting him
within those odious four walls.
"Suppose one of these revolutionists," he asked himself, "were to take a fancy
to call on me while I am writing?" The mere prospect of such an interruption
made him shudder. One could lock one's door, or ask the tobacconist downstairs
(some sort of a refugee himself) to tell inquirers that one was not in. Not
very good precautions those. The manner of his life, he felt, must be kept
clear of every cause for suspicion or even occasion for wonder, down to such
trifling occurrences as a delay in opening a locked door. "I wish I were in
the middle of some field miles away from everywhere," he thought.
He had unconsciously turned to the left once more and now was aware of being on
a bridge again. This one was much narrower than the other, and instead of
being straight, made a sort of elbow or angle. At the point of that angle a
short arm joined it to a hexagonal islet with a soil of gravel and its shores
faced with dressed stone, a perfection of puerile neatness. A couple of tall
poplars and a few other trees stood grouped on the clean, dark gravel, and
under them a few garden benches and a bronze effigy of Jean Jacques Rousseau
seated on its pedestal.
On setting his foot on it Razumov became aware that, except for the woman in
charge of the refreshment chalet, he would be alone on the island. There was
something of naive, odious, and inane simplicity about that unfrequented tiny
crumb of earth named after Jean Jacques Rousseau. Something pretentious and
shabby, too. He asked for a glass of milk, which he drank standing, at one
draught (nothing but tea had passed his lips since the morning), and was going
away with a weary, lagging step when a thought stopped him short. He had found
precisely what he needed. If solitude could ever be secured in the open air in
the middle of a town, he would have it there on this absurd island, together
with the faculty of watching the only approach.
He went back heavily to a garden seat, dropped into it. This was the place for
making a beginning of that writing which had to be done. The materials he had
on him. "I shall always come here," he said to himself, and afterwards sat for
quite a long time motionless, without thought and sight and hearing, almost
without life. He sat long enough for the declining sun to dip behind the roofs
of the town at his back, and throw the shadow of the houses on the lake front
over the islet, before he pulled out of his pocket a fountain pen, opened a
small notebook on his knee, and began to write quickly, raising his eyes now
and then at the connecting arm of the bridge. These glances were needless;
the people crossing over in the distance seemed unwilling even to look at the
islet where the exiled effigy of the author of the _Social Contract_ sat
enthroned above the bowed head of Razumov in the sombre immobility of bronze.
After finishing his scribbling, Razumov, with a sort of feverish haste, put
away the pen, then rammed the notebook into his pocket, first tearing out the
written pages with an almost convulsive brusqueness. But the folding of the
flimsy batch on his knee was executed with thoughtful nicety. That done, he
leaned back in his seat and remained motionless, the papers holding in his left
hand. The twilight had deepened. He got up and began to pace to and fro
slowly under the trees.
"There can be no doubt that now I am safe," he thought. His fine ear could
detect the faintly accentuated murmurs of the current breaking against the
point of the island, and he forgot himself in listening to them with interest.
But even to his acute sense of hearing the sound was too elusive.
"Extraordinary occupation I am giving myself up to," he murmured. And it
occurred to him that this was about the only sound he could listen to
innocently, and for his own pleasure, as it were. Yes, the sound of water, the
voice of the wind--completely foreign to human passions. All the other sounds
of this earth brought contamination to the solitude of a soul.
This was Mr. Razumov's feeling, the soul, of course, being his own, and the
word being used not in the theological sense, but standing, as far as I can
understand it, for that part of Mr. Razumov which was not his body, and more
specially in danger from the fires of this earth. And it must be admitted that
in Mr. Razumov's case the bitterness of solitude from which he suffered was not
an altogether morbid phenomenon.
That I should, at the beginning of this retrospect, mention again that Mr.
Razumov's youth had no one in the world, as literally no one as it can be
honestly affirmed of any human being, is but a statement of fact from a man who
believes in the psychological value of facts. There is also, perhaps, a desire
of punctilious fairness. Unidentified with anyone in this narrative where the
aspects of honour and shame are remote from the ideas of the Western world, and
taking my stand on the ground of common humanity, it is for that very reason
that I feel a strange reluctance to state baldly here what every reader has
most likely already discovered himself. Such reluctance may appear absurd if
it were not for the thought that because of the imperfection of language there
is always something ungracious (and even disgraceful) in the exhibition of
naked truth. But the time has come when Councillor of State Mikulin can no
longer be ignored. His simple question "Where to?" on which we left Mr.
Razumov in St. Petersburg, throws a light on the general meaning of this
"Where to?" was the answer in the form of a gentle question to what we may call
Mr. Razumov's declaration of independence. The question was not menacing in
the least and, indeed, had the ring of innocent inquiry. Had it been taken in
a merely topographical sense, the only answer to it would have appeared
sufficiently appalling to Mr Razumov. Where to? Back to his rooms, where the
Revolution had sought him out to put to a sudden test his dormant instincts,
his half-conscious thoughts and almost wholly unconscious ambitions, by the
touch as of some furious and dogmatic religion, with its call to frantic
sacrifices, its tender resignations, its dreams and hopes uplifting the soul by
the side of the most sombre moods of despair. And Mr. Razumov had let go the
door-handle and had come back to the middle of the room, asking Councillor
Mikulin angrily, "What do you mean by it"
As far as I can tell, Councillor Mikulin did not answer that question. He drew
Mr. Razumov into familiar conversation. It is the peculiarity of Russian
natures that, however strongly engaged in the drama of action, they are still
turning their ear to the murmur of abstract ideas. This conversation (and
others later on) need not be recorded. Suffice it to say that it brought Mr.
Razumov as we know him to the test of another faith. There was nothing
official in its expression, and Mr. Razumov was led to defend his attitude of
detachment. But Councillor Mikulin would have none of his arguments. "For a
man like you," were his last weighty words in the discussion, "such a position
is impossible. Don't forget that I have seen that interesting piece of paper.
I understand your liberalism. I have an intellect of that kind myself.
Reform for me is mainly a question of method. But the principle of revolt is
a physical intoxication, a sort of hysteria which must be kept away from the
masses. You agree to this without reserve, don't you? Because, you see,
Kirylo Sidorovitch, abstention, reserve, in certain situations, come very near
to political crime. The ancient Greeks understood that very well."
Mr. Razumov, listening with a faint smile, asked Councillor Mikulin point-blank
if this meant that he was going to have him watched.
The high official took no offence at the cynical inquiry.
"No, Kirylo Sidorovitch," he answered gravely. "I don't mean to have you
Razumov, suspecting a lie, affected yet the greatest liberty of mind during the
short remainder of that interview. The older man expressed himself throughout
in familiar terms, and with a sort of shrewd simplicity. Razumov concluded
that to get to the bottom of that mind was an impossible feat. A great
disquiet made his heart beat quicker. The high official, issuing from behind
the desk, was actually offering to shake hands with him.
"Good-bye, Mr Razumov. An understanding between intelligent men is always a
satisfactory occurrence. Is it not? And, of course, these rebel gentlemen
have not the monopoly of intelligence."
"I presume that I shall not be wanted any more?" Razumov brought out that
question while his hand was still being grasped. Councillor Mikulin released
"That, Mr. Razumov," he said with great earnestness, "is as it may be. God
alone knows the future. But you may rest assured that I never thought of
having you watched. You are a young man of great independence. Yes. You are
going away free as air, but you shall end by coming back to us."
"I! I!" Razumov exclaimed in an appalled murmur of protest. "What for?" he
"Yes! You yourself, Kirylo Sidorovitch," the high police functionary insisted
in a low, severe tone of conviction. "You shall be coming back to us. Some of
our greatest minds had to do that in the end."
You have no better friend than Prince K---, and as to myself it is a long time
now since I've been honoured by his. . . ."
He glanced down his beard.
"I won't detain you any longer. We live in difficult times, in times of
monstrous chimeras and evil dreams and criminal follies. We shall certainly
meet once more. It may be some little time, though, before we do. Till then
may Heaven send you fruitful reflections!" Once in the street, Razumov started
off rapidly, without caring for the direction. At first he thought of nothing;
but in a little while the consciousness of his position presented itself to him
as something so ugly, dangerous, and absurd, the difficulty of ever freeing
himself from the toils of that complication so insoluble, that the idea of
going back and, as he termed it to himself, confessing to Councillor Mikulin
flashed through his mind.
Go back! What for? Confess! To what? "I have been speaking to him with the
greatest openness," he said to himself with perfect truth. "What else could I
tell him? That I have undertaken to carry a message to that brute Ziemianitch?
Establish a false complicity and destroy what chance of safety I have won for
Yet he could not defend himself from fancying that Councillor Mikulin was,
perhaps, the only man in the world able to understand his conduct. To be
understood appeared extremely fascinating.
On the way home he had to stop several times; all his strength seemed to run
out of his limbs; and in the movement of the busy streets, isolated as if in a
desert, he remained suddenly motionless for a minute or so before he could
proceed on his way. He reached his rooms at last
Then came an illness, something in the nature of a low fever, which all at once
removed him to a great distance from the perplexing actualities, from his very
room, even. He never lost consciousness; he only seemed to himself to be
existing languidly somewhere very far away from everything that had ever
happened to him. He came out of this state slowly, with an effect, that is to
say, of extreme slowness, though the actual number of days was not very great.
And when he had got back into the middle of things they were all changed,
subtly and provokingly in their nature: inanimate objects, human faces, the
landlady, the rustic servant-girl, the staircase, the streets, the very air.
He tackled these changed conditions in a spirit of severity. He walked to and
fro to the University, ascended stairs, paced the passages, listened to
lectures, took notes, crossed courtyards in angry aloofness, his teeth set hard
till his jaws ached.
He was perfectly aware of madcap Kostia gazing like a young retriever from a
distance, of the famished student with the red drooping nose, keeping
scrupulously away as desired; of twenty others, perhaps, he knew well enough to
speak to. And they all had an air of curiosity and concern as if they expected
something to happen. "This can't last much longer," thought Razumov more than
once. On certain days he was afraid that anyone addressing him suddenly in a
certain way would make him scream out insanely a lot of filthy abuse. Often,
after returning home, he would drop into a chair in his cap and cloak and
remain still for hours holding some book he had got from the library in his
hand; or he would pick up the little penknife and sit there scraping his nails
endlessly and feeling furious all the time--simply furious. "This is
impossible," he would mutter suddenly to the empty room.
Fact to be noted: this room might conceivably have become physically repugnant
to him, emotionally intolerable, morally uninhabitable. But no. Nothing of
the sort (and he had himself dreaded it at first), nothing of the sort
happened. On the contrary, he liked his lodgings better than any other shelter
he, who had never known a home, had ever hired before. He liked his lodgings
so well that often, on that very account, he found a certain difficulty in
making up his mind to go out. It resembled a physical seduction such as, for
instance, makes a man reluctant to leave the neighbourhood of a fire on a cold
For as, at that time, he seldom stirred except to go to the University (what
else was there to do?) it followed that whenever he went abroad he felt himself
at once closely involved in the moral consequences of his act. It was there
that the dark prestige of the Haldin mystery fell on him, clung to him like a
poisoned robe it was impossible to fling off. He suffered from it exceedingly,
as well as from the conversational, commonplace, unavoidable intercourse with
the other kind of students. "They must be wondering at the change in me," he
reflected anxiously. He had an uneasy recollection of having savagely told one
or two innocent, nice enough fellows to go to the devil. Once a married
professor he used to call upon formerly addressed him in passing: "How is it we
never see you at our Wednesdays now, Kirylo Sidorovitch?" Razumov was
conscious of meeting this advance with odious, muttering boorishness. The
professor was obviously too astonished to be offended. All this was bad. And
all this was Haldin, always Haldin--nothing but Haldin--everywhere Haldin: a
moral spectre infinitely more effective than any visible apparition of the
dead. It was only the room through which that man had blundered on his way
from crime to death that his spectre did not seem to be able to haunt. Not, to
be exact, that he was ever completely absent from it, but that there he had no
sort of power. There it was Razumov who had the upper hand, in a composed
sense of his own superiority. A vanquished phantom--nothing more. Often in
the evening, his repaired watch faintly ticking on the table by the side of the
lighted lamp, Razumov would look up from his writing and stare at the bed with
an expectant, dispassionate attention. Nothing was to be seen there. He never
really supposed that anything ever could be seen there. After a while he would
shrug his shoulders slightly and bend again over his work. For he had gone to
work and, at first, with some success. His unwillingness to leave that place
where he was safe from Haldin grew so strong that at last he ceased to go out
at all. From early morning till far into the night he wrote, he wrote for
nearly a week; never looking at the time, and only throwing himself on the bed
when he could keep his eyes open no longer. Then, one afternoon, quite
casually, he happened to glance at his watch. He laid down his pen slowly.
"At this very hour," was his thought, "the fellow stole unseen into this room
while I was out. And there he sat quiet as a mouse--perhaps in this very
chair." Razumov got up and began to pace the floor steadily, glancing at the
watch now and then. " This is the time when I returned and found him standing
against the stove," he observed to himself. When it grew dark he lit his lamp.
Later on he interrupted his tramping once more, only to wave away angrily the
girl who attempted to enter the room with tea and something to eat on a tray.
And presently he noted the watch pointing at the hour of his own going forth
into the falling snow on that terrible errand.
"Complicity," he muttered faintly, and resumed his pacing, keeping his eye on
the hands as they crept on slowly to the time of his return.
"And, after all," he thought suddenly, "I might have been the chosen instrument
of Providence. This is a manner of speaking, but there may be truth in every
manner of speaking. What if that absurd saying were true in its essence?"
He meditated for a while, then sat down, his legs stretched out, with stony
eyes, and with his arms hanging down on each side of the chair like a man
totally abandoned by Providence--desolate.
He noted the time of Haldin's departure and continued to sit still for another
half-hour; then muttering, "And now to work," drew up to the table, seized the
pen and instantly dropped it under the influence of a profoundly disquieting
reflection: "There's three weeks gone by and no word from Mikulin."
What did it mean! Was he forgotten? Possibly. Then why not remain
forgotten--creep in somewhere? Hide. But where? How? With whom? In what
hole? And was it to be for ever, or what?
But a retreat was big with shadowy dangers. The eye of the social revolution
was on him, and Razumov for a moment felt an unnamed and despairing dread,
mingled with an odious sense of humiliation. Was it possible that he no longer
belonged to himself? This was damnable. But why not simply keep on as before?
Study. Advance. Work hard as if nothing had happened (and first of all win
the Silver Medal), acquire distinction, become a great reforming servant of the
greatest of States. Servant, too, of the mightiest homogeneous mass of mankind
with a capability for logical, guided development in a brotherly solidarity of
force and aim such as the world had never dreamt of. . . the Russian nation!
Calm, resolved, steady in his great purpose, he was stretching his hand towards
the pen when he happened to glance towards the bed. He rushed at it, enraged,
with a mental scream: "it's you, crazy fanatic, who stands in the way!" He
flung the pillow on the floor violently, tore the blankets aside. . . .
Nothing there. And, turning away, he caught for an instant in the air, like a
vivid detail in a dissolving view of two heads, the eyes of General T--- and of
Privy-Councillor Mikulin side by side fixed upon him, quite different in
character, but with the same unflinching and weary and yet purposeful
expression. . . servants of the nation!
Razumov tottered to the washstand very alarmed about himself, drank some water
and bathed his forehead. "This will pass and leave no trace," he thought
confidently. "I am all right." But as to supposing that he had been forgotten
it was perfect nonsense. He was a marked man on that side. And that was
nothing. It was what that miserable phantom stood for which had to be got out
of the way. . . . "If one only could go and spit it all out at some of
them--and take the consequences."
He imagined himself accosting the red-nosed student and suddenly shaking his
fist in his face. "From that one, though," he reflected," there's nothing to
be got, because he has no mind of his own. He's living in a red democratic
trance. Ah! you want to smash your way into universal happiness, my boy. I
will give you universal happiness, you silly, hypnotized ghoul, you! And what
about my own happiness, eh? Haven't I got any right to it, just because I can
think for myself?. . ."
And again, but with a different mental accent, Razumov said to himself, "I am
young. Everything can be lived down." At that moment he was crossing the room
slowly, intending to sit down on the sofa and try to compose his thoughts. But
before he had got so far everything abandoned him--hope, courage, belief in
himself trust in men. His heart had, as it were, suddenly emptied itself. It
was no use struggling on. Rest, work, solitude, and the frankness of
intercourse with his kind were alike forbidden to him. Everything was gone.
His existence was a great cold blank, something like the enormous plain of the
whole of Russia levelled with snow and fading gradually on all sides into
shadows and mists.
He sat down, with swimming head, closed his eyes, and remained like that,
sitting bolt upright on the sofa and perfectly awake for the rest of the night;
till the girl bustling into the outer room with the samovar thumped with her
fist on the door, calling out," Kirylo Sidorovitch, please! It is time for you
to get up!"
Then, pale like a corpse obeying the dread summons of judgement, Razumov opened
his eyes and got up.
Nobody will be surprised to hear, I suppose, that when the summons came he went
to see Councillor Mikulin. It came that very morning, while, looking white and
shaky, like an invalid just out of bed, he was trying to shave himself. The
envelope was addressed in the little attorney's handwriting. That envelope
contained another, superscribed to Razumov, in Prince K---'s hand, with the
request "Please forward under cover at once" in a corner. The note inside was
an autograph of Councillor Mikulin. The writer stated candidly that nothing
had arisen which needed clearing up, but nevertheless appointed a meeting with
Mr. Razumov at a certain address in town which seemed to be that of an oculist.
Razumov read it, finished shaving, dressed, looked at the note again, and
muttered gloomily, "Oculist." He pondered over it for a time, lit a match, and
burned the two envelopes and the enclosure carefully. Afterwards he waited,
sitting perfectly idle and not even looking at anything in particular till the
appointed hour drew near--and then went out.
Whether, looking at the unofficial character of the summons, he might have
refrained from attending to it is hard to say. Probably not. At any rate, he
went; but, what's more, he went with a certain eagerness, which may appear
incredible till it is remembered that Councillor Mikulin was the only person on
earth with whom Razumov could talk, taking the Haldin adventure for granted.
And Haldin, when once taken for granted, was no longer a haunting,
falsehood-breeding spectre. Whatever troubling power he exercised in all the
other places of the earth, Razumov knew very well that at this oculist's
address he would be merely the hanged murderer of M. de P--- and nothing more.
For the dead can live only with the exact intensity and quality of the life
imparted to them by the living. So Mr. Razumov, certain of relief, went to
meet Councillor Mikulin with he eagerness of a pursued person welcoming any
sort of shelter.
This much said, there is no need to tell anything more of that first interview
and of the several others. To the morality of a Western reader an account of
these meetings would wear perhaps the sinister character of old legendary tales
where the Enemy of Mankind is represented holding subtly mendacious dialogues
with some tempted soul. It is not my part to protest. Let me but remark that
the Evil One, with his single passion of satanic pride for the only motive, is
yet, on a larger, modern view, allowed to be not quite so black as he used to
be painted. With what greater latitude, then, should we appraise the exact
shade of mere mortal man, with his many passions and his miserable ingenuity in
error, always dazzled by the base glitter of mixed motives, everlastingly
betrayed by a short-sighted wisdom.
Councillor Mikulin was one of those powerful officials who, in a position not
obscure, not occult, but simply inconspicuous, exercise a great influence over
the methods rather than over the conduct of affairs. A devotion to Church and
Throne is not in itself a criminal sentiment; to prefer the will of one to the
will of many does not argue the possession of a black heart or prove congenital
idiocy. Councillor Mikulin was not only a clever but also a faithful official.
Privately he was a bachelor with a love of comfort, living alone in an
apartment of five rooms luxuriously furnished; and was known by his intimates
to be an enlightened patron of the art of female dancing. Later on the larger
world first heard of him in the very hour of his downfall, during one of those
State trials which astonish and puzzle the average plain man who reads the
newspapers, by a glimpse of unsuspected intrigues. And in the stir of vaguely
seen monstrosities, in that momentary, mysterious disturbance of muddy waters,
Councillor Mikulin went under, dignified, with only a calm, emphatic protest of
his innocence--nothing more. No disclosures damaging to a harassed autocracy,
complete fidelity to the secrets of the miserable _arcana imperii_ deposited in
his patriotic breast, a display of bureaucratic stoicism in a Russian
official's ineradicable, almost sublime contempt for truth; stoicism of silence
understood only by the very few of the initiated, and not without a certain
cynical grandeur of self-sacrifice on the part of a sybarite. For the terribly
heavy sentence turned Councillor Mikulin civilly into a corpse, and actually
into something very much like a common convict.
It seems that the savage autocracy, no more than the divine democracy, does not
limit its diet exclusively to the bodies of its enemies. It devours its
friends and servants as well. The downfall of His Excellency Gregory
Gregorievitch Mikulin (which did not occur till some years later) completes all
that is known of the man. But at the time of M. de P---'s murder (or
execution) Councillor Mikulin, under the modest style of Head of Department at
the General Secretariat, exercised a wide influence as the confidant and
right-hand man of his former schoolfellow and lifelong friend, General T---.
One can imagine them talking over the case of Mr. Razumov, with the full sense
of their unbounded power over all the lives in Russia, with cursory disdain,
like two Olympians glancing at a worm. The relationship with Prince K--- was
enough to save Razumov from some carelessly arbitrary proceeding, and it is
also very probable that after the interview at the Secretariat he would have
been left alone. Councillor Mikulin would not have forgotten him (he forgot no
one who ever fell under his observation), but would have simply dropped him for
ever. Councillor Mikulin was a good-natured man and wished no harm to anyone.
Besides (with his own reforming tendencies) he was favourably impressed by
that young student, the son of Prince K---, and apparently no fool.
But as fate would have it, while Mr. Razumov was finding that no way of life
was possible to him, Councillor Mikulin's discreet abilities were rewarded by a
very responsible post--nothing less than the direction of the general police
supervision over Europe. And it was then, and then only, when taking in hand
the perfecting of the service which watches the revolutionist activities
abroad, that he thought again of Mr. Razumov. He saw great possibilities of
special usefulness in that uncommon young man on whom he had a hold already,
with his peculiar temperament, his unsettled mind and shaken conscience, a
struggling in the toils of a false position. . . . It was as if the
revolutionists themselves had put into his hand that tool so much finer than
the common base instruments, so perfectly fitted, if only vested with
sufficient credit, to penetrate into places inaccessible to common informers.
Providential! Providential! And Prince K---, taken into the secret, was
ready enough to adopt that mystical view too. "It will be necessary, though,
to make a career for him afterwards," he had stipulated anxiously. "Oh!
absolutely. We shall make that our affair," Mikulin had agreed. Prince K---'s
mysticism was of an artless kind; but Councillor Mikulin was astute enough for
Things and men have always a certain sense, a certain side by which they must
be got hold of if one wants to obtain a solid grasp and a perfect command. The
power of Councillor Mikulin consisted in the ability to seize upon that sense,
that side in the men he used. It did not matter to him what it was--vanity,
despair, love, hate, greed, intelligent pride or stupid conceit, it was all one
to him as long as the man could be made to serve. The obscure, unrelated young
student Razumov, in the moment of great moral loneliness, was allowed to feel
that he was an object of interest to a small group of people of high position.
Prince K--- was persuaded to intervene personally, and on a certain occasion
gave way to a manly emotion which, all unexpected as it was, quite upset Mr.
Razumov. The sudden embrace of that man, agitated by his loyalty to a throne
and by suppressed paternal affection, was a revelation to Mr. Razumov of
something within his own breast.
"So that was it!" he exclaimed to himself. A sort of contemptuous tenderness
softened the young man's grim view of his position as he reflected upon that
agitated interview with Prince K---. This simpleminded, worldly ex-Guardsman
and senator whose soft grey official whiskers had brushed against his cheek,
his aristocratic and convinced father, was he a whit less estimable or more
absurd than that famine-stricken, fanatical revolutionist, the red-nosed
And there was some pressure, too, besides the persuasiveness. Mr. Razumov was
always being made to feel that he had committed himself. There was no getting
away from that feeling, from that soft, unanswerable, "Where to?" of Councillor
Mikulin. But no susceptibilities were ever hurt. It was to be a dangerous
mission to Geneva for obtaining, at a critical moment, absolutely reliable
information from a very inaccessible quarter of the inner revolutionary circle.
There were indications that a very serious plot was being matured. . . . The
repose indispensable to a great country was at stake. . . . A great scheme of
orderly reforms would be endangered. . . . The highest personages in the land
were patriotically uneasy, and so on. In short, Councillor Mikulin knew what
to say. This skill is to be inferred clearly from the mental and psychological
self-confession, self-analysis of Mr. Razumov's written journal--the pitiful
resource of a young man who had near him no trusted intimacy, no natural
affection to turn to.
How all this preliminary work was concealed from observation need not be
recorded. The expedient of the oculist gives a sufficient instance.
Councillor Mikulin was resourceful, and the task not very difficult. Any
fellow-student, even the red-nosed one, was perfectly welcome to see Mr.
Razumov entering a private house to consult an oculist. Ultimate success
depended solely on the revolutionary self-delusion which credited Razumov with
a mysterious complicity in the Haldin affair. To be compromised in it was
credit enough-and it was their own doing. It was precisely _that_ which
stamped Mr. Razumov as a providential man, wide as poles apart from the usual
type of agent for "European supervision."
And it was _that_ which the Secretariat set itself the task to foster by a
course of calculated and false indiscretions.
It came at last to this, that one evening Mr. Razumov was unexpectedly called
upon by one of the "thinking" students whom formerly, before the Haldin affair,
he used to meet at various private gatherings; a big fellow with a quiet,
unassuming manner and a pleasant voice.
Recognizing his voice raised in the ante-room, "May one come in?" Razumov,
lounging idly on his couch, jumped up. "Suppose he were coming to stab me?" he
thought sardonically, and, assuming a green shade over his left eye, said in a
severe tone, "Come in."
The other was embarrassed; hoped he was not intruding.
"You haven't been seen for several days, and I've wondered." He coughed a
little. "Eye better?"
"Nearly well now."
" Good. I won't stop a minute; but you see I, that is, we--anyway, I have
undertaken the duty to warn you, Kirylo Sidorovitch, that you are living in
false security maybe."
Razumov sat still with his head leaning on his hand, which nearly concealed the
"I have that idea, too."
"That's all right, then. Everything seems quiet now, but those people are
preparing some move of general repression. That's of course. But it isn't
that I came to tell you." He hitched his chair closer, dropped his voice.
"You will be arrested before long--we fear."
An obscure scribe in the Secretariat had overheard a few words of a certain
conversation, and had caught a glimpse of a certain report. This intelligence
was not to be neglected.
Razumov laughed a little, and his visitor became very anxious.
"Ah! Kirylo Sidorovitch, this is no laughing matter. They have left you alone
for a while, but. . . ! Indeed, you had better try to leave the country,
Kirylo Sidorovitch, while there's yet time."
Razumov jumped up and began to thank him for the advice with mocking
effusiveness, so that the other, colouring up, took himself off with the notion
that this mysterious Razumov was not a person to be warned or advised by
Councillor Mikulin, informed the next day of the incident, expressed his
satisfaction. "H'm. Ha! Exactly what was wanted to. . ." and glanced down
"I conclude," said Razumov," that the moment has come for me to start on my
"The psychological Moment," Councillor Mikulin insisted softly--very
gravely--as if awed.
All the arrangements to give verisimilitude to the appearance of a difficult
escape were made. Councillor Mikulin did not expect to see Mr. Razumov again
before his departure. These meetings were a risk, and there was nothing more
"We have said everything to each other by now, Kirylo Sidorovitch, "said the
high official feelingly, pressing Razumov's hand with that unreserved
heartiness a Russian can convey in his manner. "There is nothing obscure
between us. And I will tell you what! I consider myself fortunate in
having--h'm--your. . . ."
He glanced down his beard, and, after a moment of thoughtful silence, handed to
Razumov a half-sheet of notepaper--an abbreviated note of matters already
discussed, certain points of inquiry, the line of conduct agreed on, a few
hints as to personalities, and so on. It was the only compromising document in
the case, but, as Councillor Mikulin observed, it could be easily destroyed.
Mr. Razumov had better not see any one now--till on the other side of the
frontier, when, of course, it will be just that. . . . See and hear and. . . ."
He glanced down his beard; but when Razumov declared his intention to see one
person at least before leaving St. Petersburg, Councillor Mikulin failed to
conceal a sudden uneasiness. The young man's studious, solitary, and austere
existence was well known to him. It was the greatest guarantee of fitness. He
became deprecatory. Had his dear Kirylo Sidorovitch considered whether, in
view of such a momentous enterprise, it wasn't really advisable to sacrifice
every sentiment. . . .
Razumov interrupted the remonstrance scornfully. It was not a young woman, it
was a young fool he wished to see for a certain purpose. Councillor Mikulin
was relieved, but surprised.
"Ah! And what for--precisely?"
"For the sake of improving the aspect of verisimilitude," said Razumov curtly,
in a desire to affirm his independence. "I must be trusted in what I do."
Councillor Mikulin gave way tactfully, murmuring, "Oh, certainly, certainly.
Your judgment. . ."
And with another handshake they parted.
The fool of whom Mr. Razumov had thought was the rich and festive student known
as madcap Kostia. Feather-headed, loquacious, excitable, one could make
certain of his utter and complete indiscretion. But that riotous youth, when
reminded by Razumov of his offers of service some time ago, passed from his
usual elation into boundless dismay.
"Oh, Kirylo Sidorovitch, my dearest friend--my saviour--what shall I do? I've
blown last night every rouble I had from my dad the other day. Can't you give
me till Thursday? I shall rush round to all the usurers I know. . . . No, of
course, you can't! Don't look at me like that. What shall I do? No use
asking the old man. I tell you he's given me a fistful of big notes three days
ago. Miserable wretch that I am."
He wrung his hands in despair. Impossible to confide in the old man. "They"
had given him a decoration, a cross on the neck only last year, and he had been
cursing the modern tendencies ever since. Just then he would see all the
intellectuals in Russia hanged in a row rather than part with a single rouble.
"Kirylo Sidorovitch, wait a moment. Don't despise me. I have it. I'll,
yes--I'll do it--I'll break into his desk. There's no help for it. I know the
drawer where he keeps his plunder, and I can buy a chisel on my way home. He
will be terribly upset, but, you know, the dear old duffer really loves me.
He'll have to get over it--and I, too. Kirylo, my dear soul, if you can only
wait for a few hours-till this evening--I shall steal all the blessed lot I can
lay my hands on! You doubt me! Why? You've only to say the word."
"Steal, by all means," said Razumov, fixing him stonily.
"To the devil with the ten commandments!" cried the other, with the greatest
animation. "It's the new future now."
But when he entered Razumov's room late in the evening it was with an
unaccustomed soberness of manner, almost solemnly.
"It's done," he said.
Razumov sitting bowed, his clasped hands hanging between his knees, shuddered
at the familiar sound of these words. Kostia deposited slowly in the circle of
lamplight a small brown-paper parcel tied with a piece of string.
"As I've said--all I could lay my hands on. The old boy'll think the end of
the world has come." Razumov nodded from the couch, and contemplated the
hare-brained fellow's gravity with a feeling of malicious pleasure.
"I've made my little sacrifice," sighed mad Kostia. "And I've to thank you,
Kirylo Sidorovitch, for the opportunity."
"It has cost you something?"
"Yes, it has. You see, the dear old duffer really loves me. He'll be hurt."
"And you believe all they tell you of the new future and the sacred will of the
"Implicitly. I would give my life. . . . Only, you see, I am like a pig at a
trough. I am no good. It's my nature."
Razumov, lost in thought, had forgotten his existence till the youth's voice,
entreating him to fly without loss of time, roused him unpleasantly.
"All right. Well--good-bye."
"I am not going to leave you till I've seen you out of St. Petersburg,"
declared Kostia unexpectedly, with calm determination. "You can't refuse me
that now. For God's sake, Kirylo, my soul, the police may be here any moment,
and when they get you they'll immure you somewhere for ages--till your hair
turns grey. I have down there the best trotter of dad's stables and a light
sledge. We shall do thirty miles before the moon sets, and find some roadside
station. . . ."
Razumov looked up amazed. The journey was decided--unavoidable. He had fixed
the next day for his departure on the mission. And now he discovered suddenly
that he had not believed in it. He had gone about listening, speaking,
thinking, planning his simulated flight, with the growing conviction that all
this was preposterous. As if anybody ever did such things! It was like a game
of make-believe. And now he was amazed! Here was somebody who believed in it
with desperate earnestness. "If I don't go now, at once," thought Razumov,
with a start of fear, "I shall never go." He rose without a word, and the
anxious Kostia thrust his cap on him, helped him into his cloak, or else he
would have left the room bareheaded as he stood. He was walking out silently
when a sharp cry arrested him.
"What?" He turned reluctantly in the doorway. Upright, with a stiffly extended
arm, Kostia, his face set and white, was pointing an eloquent forefinger at the
brown little packet lying forgotten in the circle of bright light on the table.
Razumov hesitated, came back for it under the severe eyes of his companion, at
whom he tried to smile. But the boyish, mad youth was frowning. "It's a
dream," thought Razumov, putting the little parcel into his pocket and
descending the stairs; "nobody does such things." The other held him under the
arm, whispering of dangers ahead, and of what he meant to do in certain
contingencies. "Preposterous," murmured Razumov, as he was being tucked up in
the sledge. He gave himself up to watching the development of the dream with
extreme attention. It continued on foreseen lines, inexorably logical--the
long drive, the wait at the small station sitting by a stove. They did not
exchange half a dozen words altogether. Kostia, gloomy himself, did not care
to break the silence. At parting they embraced twice--it had to be done; and
then Kostia vanished out of the dream.
When dawn broke, Razumov, very still in a hot, stuffy railway-car full of
bedding and of sleeping people in all its dimly lighted length, rose quietly,
lowered the glass a few inches, and flung out on the great plain of snow a
small brown-paper parcel. Then he sat down again muffled up and motionless.
"For the people," he thought, staring out of the window. The great white
desert of frozen, hard earth glided past his eyes without a sign of human
That had been a waking act; and then the dream had him again: Prussia, Saxony,
Wurtemberg, faces, sights, words--all a dream, observed with an angry,
compelled attention. Zurich, Geneva--still a dream, minutely followed, wearing
one into harsh laughter, to fury, to death--with the fear of awakening at the
"Perhaps life is just that," reflected Razumov, pacing to and fro under the
trees of the little island, all alone with the bronze statue of Rousseau. "A
dream and a fear." The dusk deepened. The pages written over and torn out of
his notebook were the first-fruit of his "mission." No dream that. They
contained the assurance that he was on the eve of real discoveries. "I think
there is no longer anything in the way of my being completely accepted."
He had resumed his impressions in those pages, some of the conversations. He
even went so far as to write: "By the by, I have discovered the personality of
that terrible N.N. A horrible, paunchy brute. If I hear anything of his
future movements I shall send a warning."
The futility of all this overcame him like a curse. Even then he could not
believe in the reality of his mission. He looked round despairingly, as if for
some way to redeem his existence from that unconquerable feeling. He crushed
angrily in his hand the pages of the notebook. "This must be posted," he
He gained the bridge and returned to the north shore, where he remembered
having seen in one of the narrower streets a little obscure shop stocked with
cheap wood carvings, its walls lined with extremely dirty cardboard-bound
volumes of a small circulating library. They sold stationery there, too. A
morose, shabby old man dozed behind the counter. A thin woman in black, with a
sickly face, produced the envelope he had asked for without even looking at
him. Razumov thought that these people were safe to deal with because they no
longer cared for anything in the world. He addressed the envelope on the
counter with the German name of a certain person living in Vienna. But Razumov
knew that this, his first communication for Councillor Mikulin, would find its
way to the Embassy there, be copied in cypher by somebody trustworthy, and sent
on to its destination, all safe, along with the diplomatic correspondence.
That was the arrangement contrived to cover up the track of the information
from all unfaithful eyes, from all indiscretions, from all mishaps and
treacheries. It was to make him safe--absolutely safe.
He wandered out of the wretched shop and made for the post office. It was then
that I saw him for the second time that day. He was crossing the Rue Mont
Blanc with every appearance of an aimless stroller. He did not recognize me,
but I made him out at some distance. He was very good-looking, I thought, this
remarkable friend of Miss Haldin's brother. I watched him go up to the
letter-box and then retrace his steps. Again he passed me very close, but I am
certain he did not see me that time, either. He carried his head well up, but
he had the expression of a somnambulist struggling with the very dream which
drives him forth to wander in dangerous places. My thoughts reverted to
Natalia Haldin, to her mother. He was all that was left to them of their son
The westerner in me was discomposed. There was something shocking in the
expression of that face. Had I been myself a conspirator, a Russian political
refugee, I could have perhaps been able to draw some practical conclusion from
this chance glimpse. As it was, it only discomposed me strongly, even to the
extent of awakening an indefinite apprehension in regard to Natalia Haldin.
All this is rather inexplicable, but such was the origin of the purpose I
formed there and then to call on these ladies in the evening, after my solitary
dinner. It was true that I had met Miss Haldin only a few hours before, but
Mrs. Haldin herself I had not seen for some considerable time. The truth is, I
had shirked calling of late.
Poor Mrs. Haldin! I confess she frightened me a little. She was one of those
natures, rare enough, luckily, in which one cannot help being interested,
because they provoke both terror and pity. One dreads their contact for
oneself, and still more for those one cares for, so clear it is that they are
born to suffer and to make others suffer, too. It is strange to think that, I
won't say liberty, but the mere liberalism of outlook which for us is a matter
of words, of ambitions, of votes (and if of feeling at all, then of the sort of
feeling which leaves our deepest affections untouched), may be for other beings
very much like ourselves and living under the same sky, a heavy trial of
fortitude, a matter of tears and anguish and blood. Mrs. Haldin had felt the
pangs of her own generation. There was that enthusiast brother of hers--the
officer they shot under Nicholas. A faintly ironic resignation is no armour
for a vulnerable heart. Mrs. Haldin, struck at through her children, was bound
to suffer afresh from the past, and to feel the anguish of the future. She was
of those who do not know how to heal themselves, of those who are too much
aware of their heart, who, neither cowardly nor selfish, look passionately at
its wounds--and count the cost.
Such thoughts as these seasoned my modest, lonely bachelor's meal. If anybody
wishes to remark that this was a roundabout way of thinking of Natalia Haldin,
I can only retort that she was well worth some concern. She had all her life
before her. Let it be admitted, then, that I was thinking of Natalia Haldin's
life in terms of her mother's character, a manner of thinking about a girl
permissible for an old man, not too old yet to have become a stranger to pity.
There was almost all her youth before her; a youth robbed arbitrarily of its
natural lightness and joy, overshadowed by an un-European despotism; a terribly
sombre youth given over to the hazards of a furious strife between equally
I lingered over my thoughts more than I should have done. One felt so
helpless, and even worse--so unrelated, in a way. At the last moment I
hesitated as to going there at all. What was the good?
The evening was already advanced when, turning into the Boulevard des
Philosophes, I saw the light in the window at the corner. The blind was down,
but I could imagine behind it Mrs. Haldin seated in the chair, in her usual
attitude, looking out for some one, which had lately acquired the poignant
quality of mad expectation.
I thought that I was sufficiently authorized by the light to knock at the door.
The ladies had not retired as yet. I only hoped they would not have any
visitors of their own nationality. A broken-down, retired Russian official was
to be found there sometimes in the evening. He was infinitely forlorn and
wearisome by his mere dismal presence. I think these ladies tolerated his
frequent visits because of an ancient friendship with Mr. Haldin, the father,
or something of that sort. I made up my mind that if I found him prosing away
there in his feeble voice I should remain but a very few minutes.
The door surprised me by swinging open before I could ring the bell. I was
confronted by Miss Haldin, in hat and jacket, obviously on the point of going
out. At that hour! For the doctor, perhaps?
Her exclamation of welcome reassured me. It sounded as if I had been the very
man she wanted to see. My curiosity was awakened. She drew me in, and the
faithful Anna, the elderly German maid, closed the door, but did not go away
afterwards. She remained near it as if in readiness to let me out presently.
It appeared that Miss Haldin had been on the point of going out to find me.
She spoke in a hurried manner very unusual with her. She would have gone
straight and rung at Mrs. Ziegler's door, late as it was, for Mrs. Ziegler's
habits. . . .
Mrs. Ziegler, the widow of a distinguished professor who was an intimate friend
of mine, lets me have three rooms out of her very large and fine apartment,
which she didn't give up after her husband's death; but I have my own entrance
opening on the same landing. It was an arrangement of at least ten years'
standing. I said that I was very glad that I had the idea to. . . .
Miss Haldin made no motion to take off her outdoor things. I observed her
heightened colour, something pronouncedly resolute in her tone. Did I know
where Mr. Razumov lived?
Where Mr. Razumov lived? Mr. Razumov? At this hour--so urgently? I threw my
arms up in sign of utter ignorance. I had not the slightest idea where he
lived. If I could have foreseen her question only three hours ago, I might
have ventured to ask him on the pavement before the new post office building,
and possibly he would have told me, but very possibly, too, he would have
dismissed me rudely to mind my own business. And possibly, I thought,
remembering that extraordinary hallucined, anguished, and absent expression, he
might have fallen down in a fit from the shock of being spoken to. I said
nothing of all this to Miss Haldin, not even mentioning that I had a glimpse of
the young man so recently. The impression had been so extremely unpleasant
that I would have been glad to forget it myself.
"I don't see where I could make inquiries," I murmured helplessly. I would
have been glad to be of use in any way, and would have set off to fetch any
man, young or old, for I had the greatest confidence in her common sense.
"What made you think of coming to me for that information?" I asked.
"It wasn't exactly for that," she said, in a low voice. She had the air of
some one confronted by an unpleasant task.
"Am I to understand that you must communicate with Mr. Razumov this evening?"
Natalia Haldin moved her head affirmatively; then, after a glance at the door
of the drawing-room, said in French--
"_C'est maman_," and remained perplexed for a moment. Always serious, not a
girl to be put out by any imaginary difficulties, my curiosity was suspended on
her lips, which remained closed for a moment. What was Mr. Razumov's connexion
with this mention of her mother? Mrs. Haldin had not been informed of her
son's friend's arrival in Geneva.
"May I hope to see your mother this evening?" I inquired.
Miss Haldin extended her hand as if to bar the way.
"She is in a terrible state of agitation. Oh, you would not he able to detect.
. . . It's inward, but I who know mother, I am appalled. I haven't the
courage to face it any longer. It's all my fault; I suppose I cannot play a
part; I've never before hidden anything from mother. There has never been an
occasion for anything of that sort between us. But you know yourself the
reason why I refrained from telling her at once of Mr. Razumov's arrival here.
You understand, don't you? Owing to her unhappy state. And--there--I am no
actress. My own feelings being strongly engaged, I somehow . . . . I don't
know. She noticed something in my manner. She thought I was concealing
something from her. She noticed my longer absences, and, in fact, as I have
been meeting Mr. Razumov daily, I used to stay away longer than usual when I
went out. Goodness knows what suspicions arose in her mind. You know that she
has not been herself ever since. . . . So this evening she--who has been so
awfully silent: for weeks-began to talk all at once. She said that she did not
want to reproach me; that I had my character as she had her own; that she did
not want to pry into my affairs or even into my thoughts; for her part, she had
never had anything to conceal from her children. . . cruel things to listen to.
And all this in her quiet voice, with that poor, wasted face as calm as a
stone. It was unbearable."
Miss Haldin talked in an undertone and more rapidly than I had ever heard her
speak before. That in itself was disturbing. The ante-room being strongly
lighted, I could see under the veil the heightened colour of her face. She
stood erect, her left hand was resting lightly on a small table. The other
hung by her side without stirring. Now and then she caught her breath slightly.
"It was too startling. Just fancy! She thought that I was making preparations
to leave her without saying anything. I knelt by the side of her chair and
entreated her to think of what she was saying! She put her hand on my head,
but she persists in her delusion all the same. She had always thought that she
was worthy of her children's confidence, but apparently it was not so. Her son
could not trust her love nor yet her understanding--and now I was planning to
abandon her in the same cruel and unjust manner, and so on, and so on. Nothing
I could say. . . . It is morbid obstinacy. . . . She said that she felt there
was something, some change in me. . . . If my convictions were calling me
away, why this secrecy, as though she had been a coward or a weakling not safe
to trust? 'As if my heart could play traitor to my children,' she said. . . .
It was hardly to be borne. And she was smoothing my head all the time. . . .
It was perfectly useless to protest. She is ill. Her very soul is. . . ."
I did not venture to break the silence which fell between us. I looked into
her eyes, glistening through the veil.
"I! Changed!" she exclaimed in the same low tone. "My convictions calling me
away! It was cruel to hear this, because my trouble is that I am weak and
cannot see what I ought to do. You know that. And to end it all I did a
selfish thing. To remove her suspicions of myself I told her of Mr. Razumov.
It was selfish of me. You know we were completely right in agreeing to keep
the knowledge away from her. Perfectly right. Directly I told her of our poor
Victor's friend being here I saw how right we have been. She ought to have
been prepared; but in my distress I just blurted it out. Mother got terribly
excited at once. How long has he been here? What did he know, and why did he
not come to see us at once, this friend of her Victor? What did that mean?
Was she not to be trusted even with such memories as there were left of her
son?. . . Just think how I felt seeing her, white like a sheet, perfectly
motionless, with her thin hands gripping the arms of the chair. I told her it
was all my fault."
I could imagine the motionless dumb figure of the mother in her chair, there,
behind the door, near which the daughter was talking to me. The silence in
there seemed to call aloud for vengeance against an historical fact and the
modern instances of its working. That view flashed through my mind, but I
could not doubt that Miss Haldin had had an atrocious time of it. I quite
understood when she said that she could not face the night upon the impression
of that scene. Mrs. Haldin had given way to most awful imaginings, to most
fantastic and cruel suspicions. All this had to be lulled at all costs and
without loss of time. It was no shock to me to ]earn that Miss Haldin had said
to her, "I will go and bring him here at once." There was nothing absurd in
that cry, no exaggeration of sentiment. I was not even doubtful in my "Very
well, but how?"
It was perfectly right that she should think of me, but what could I do in my
ignorance of Mr. Razumov's quarters.
"And to think he may be living near by, within a stone's-throw, perhaps!" she
I doubted it; but I would have gone off cheerfully to fetch him from the other
end of Geneva. I suppose she was certain of my readiness, since her first
thought was to come to me. But the service she meant to ask of me really was
to accompany her to the Chateau Borel.
I had an unpleasant mental vision of the dark road, of the sombre grounds, and
the desolately suspicious aspect of that home of necromancy and intrigue and
feminist adoration. I objected that Madame de S--- most likely would know
nothing of what we wanted to find out. Neither did I think it likely that the
young man would be found there. I remembered my glimpse of his face, and
somehow gained the conviction that a man who looked worse than if he had seen
the dead would want to shut himself up somewhere where he could be alone. I
felt a strange certitude that Mr. Razumov was going home when I saw him.
"It is really of Peter Ivanovitch that I was thinking," said Miss Haldin
Ah! He, of course, would know. I looked at my watch. It was twenty minutes
past nine only. . . . Still.
"I would try his hotel, then," I advised. "He has rooms at the Cosmopolitan,
somewhere on the top floor."
I did not offer to go by myself, simply from mistrust of the reception I should
meet with. But I suggested the faithful Anna, with a note asking for the
Anna was still waiting by the door at the other end of the room, and we two
discussed the matter in whispers. Miss Haldin thought she must go herself.
Anna was timid and slow. Time would be lost in bringing back the answer, and
from that point of view it was getting late, for it was by no means certain
that Mr. Razumov lived near by.
"If I go myself," Miss Haldin argued, "I can go straight to him from the hotel.
And in any case I should have to go out, because I must explain to Mr. Razumov
personally--prepare him in a way. You have no idea of mother's state of mind."
Her colour came and went. She even thought that both for her mother's sake and
for her own it was better that they should not be together for a little time.
Anna, whom her mother liked, would be at hand.
"She could take her sewing into the room," Miss Haldin continued, leading the
way to the door. Then, addressing in German the maid who opened it before us,
"You may tell my mother that this gentleman called and is gone with me to find
Mr. Razumov. She must not be uneasy if I am away for some length of time."
We passed out quickly into the street, and she took deep breaths of the cool
night air. "I did not even ask you," she murmured.
"I should think not," I said, with a laugh. The manner of my reception by the
great feminist could not be considered now. That he would be annoyed to see
me, and probably treat me to some solemn insolence, I had no doubt, but I
supposed that he would not absolutely dare to throw me out. And that was all I
cared for. "Won't you take my arm?" I asked.
She did so in silence, and neither of us said anything worth recording till I
let her go first into the great hall of the hotel. It was brilliantly lighted,
and with a good many people lounging about.
"I could very well go up there without you," I suggested.
"I don't like to be left waiting in this place," she said in a low voice.
"I will come too."
I led her straight to the lift then. At the top floor the attendant directed
us to the right: "End of the corridor."
The walls were white, the carpet red, electric lights blazed in profusion, and
the emptiness, the silence, the closed doors all alike and numbered, made me
think of the perfect order of some severely luxurious model penitentiary on the
solitary confinement principle. Up there under the roof of that enormous pile
for housing travellers no sound of any kind reached us, the thick crimson felt
muffled our footsteps completely. We hastened on, not looking at each other
till we found ourselves before the very last door of that long passage. Then
our eyes met, and we stood thus for a moment lending ear to a faint murmur of
"I suppose this is it," I whispered unnecessarily. I saw Miss Haldin's lips
move without a sound, and after my sharp knock the murmur of voices inside
ceased. A profound stillness lasted for a few seconds, and then the door was
brusquely opened by a short, black-eyed woman in a red blouse, with a great lot
of nearly white hair, done up negligently in an untidy and unpicturesque
manner. Her thin, jetty eyebrows were drawn together. I learned afterwards
with interest that she was the famous--or the notorious--Sophia Antonovna, but
I was struck then by the quaint Mephistophelian character of her inquiring
glance, because it was so curiously evil-less, so--I may say--un-devilish. It
got softened still more as she looked up at Miss Haldin, who stated, in her
rich, even voice, her wish to see Peter Ivanovitch for a moment.
"I am Miss Haldin," she added.
At this, with her brow completely smoothed out now, but without a word in
answer, the woman in the red blouse walked away to a sofa and sat down, leaving
the door wide open.
And from the sofa, her hands lying on her lap, she watched us enter, with her
black, glittering eyes.
Miss Haldin advanced into the middle of the room; I, faithful to my part of
mere attendant, remained by the door after closing it behind me. The room,
quite a large one, but with a low ceiling, was scantily furnished, and an
electric bulb with a porcelain shade pulled low down over a big table (with a
very large map spread on it) left its distant parts in a dim, artificial
twilight. Peter Ivanovitch was not to be seen, neither was Mr. Razumov
present. But, on the sofa, near Sophia Antonovna, a bony-faced man with a
goatee beard leaned forward with his hands on his knees, staring hard with a
kindly expression. In a remote corner a broad, pale face and a bulky shape
could be made out, uncouth, and as if insecure on the low seat on which it
rested. The only person known to me was little Julius Laspara, who seemed to
have been poring over the map, his feet twined tightly round the chair-legs.
He got down briskly and bowed to Miss Haldin, looking absurdly like a
hooknosed boy with a beautiful false pepper-and-salt beard. He advanced,
offering his seat, which Miss Haldin declined. She had only come in for a
moment to say a few words to Peter Ivanovitch.
His high-pitched voice became painfully audible in the room.
"Strangely enough, I was thinking of you this very afternoon, Natalia
Victorovna. I met Mr. Razumov. I asked him to write me an article on anything
he liked. You could translate it into English--with such a teacher."
He nodded complimentarily in my direction. At the name of Razumov an
indescribable sound, a sort of feeble squeak, as of some angry small animal,
was heard in the corner occupied by the man who seemed much too large for the
chair on which he sat. I did not hear what Miss Haldin said. Laspara spoke
"It's time to do something, Natalia Victorovna. But I suppose you have your
own ideas. Why not write something yourself? Suppose you came to see us soon?
We could talk it over. Any advice. . . .
Again I did not catch Miss Haldin's words. It was Laspara's voice once more.
"Peter Ivanovitch? He's retired for a moment into the other room. We are all
waiting for him." The great man, entering at that moment, looked bigger,
taller, quite imposing in a long dressing-gown of some dark stuff. It
descended in straight lines down to his feet. He suggested a monk or a
prophet, a robust figure of same desert-dweller--something Asiatic; and the
dark glasses in conjunction with this costume made him more mysterious than
ever in the subdued light.
Little Laspara went back to his chair to look at the map, the only brilliantly
lit object in the room. Even from my distant position by the door I could make
out, by the shape of the blue part representing the water, that it was a map of
the Baltic provinces. Peter Ivanovitch exclaimed slightly, advancing towards
Miss Haldin, checked himself on perceiving me, very vaguely no doubt; and
peered with his dark, bespectacled stare. He must have recognized me by my
grey hair, because, with a marked shrug of his broad shoulders, he turned to
Miss Haldin in benevolent indulgence. He seized her hand in his thick
cushioned palm, and put his other big paw over it like a lid.
While those two standing in the middle of the floor were exchanging a few
inaudible phrases no one else moved in the room: Laspara, with his back to us,
kneeling on the chair, his elbows propped on the big-scale map, the shadowy
enormity in the corner, the frankly staring man with the goatee on the sofa,
the woman in the red blouse by his side--not one of them stirred. I suppose
that really they had no time, for Miss Haldin withdrew her hand immediately
from Peter Ivanovitch and before I was ready for her was moving to the door. A
disregarded Westerner, I threw it open hurriedly and followed her out, my last
glance leaving them all motionless in their varied poses: Peter Ivanovitch
alone standing up, with his dark glasses like an enormous blind teacher, and
behind him the vivid patch of light on the coloured map, pored over by the
Later on, much later on, at the time of the newspaper rumours (they were vague
and soon died out) of an abortive military conspiracy in Russia, I remembered
the glimpse I had of that motionless group with its central figure. No details
ever came out, but it was known that the revolutionary parties abroad had given
their assistance, had sent emissaries in advance, that even money was found to
dispatch a steamer with a cargo of arms and conspirators to invade the Baltic
provinces. And while my eyes scanned the imperfect disclosures (in which the
world was not much interested) I thought that the old, settled Europe had been
given in my person attending that Russian girl something like a glimpse behind
the scenes. A short, strange glimpse on the top floor of a great hotel of all
places in the world: the great man himself; the motionless great bulk in the
corner of the slayer of spies and gendarmes; Yakovlitch, the veteran of ancient
terrorist campaigns; the woman, with her hair as white as mine and the lively
black eyes, all in a mysterious half-light, with the strongly lighted map of
Russia on the table. The woman I had the opportunity to see again. As we were
waiting for the lift she came hurrying along the corridor, with her eyes
fastened on Miss Haldin's face, and drew her aside as if for a confidential
communication. It was not long. A few words only.
Going down in the lift, Natalia Haldin did not break the silence. It was only
when out of the hotel and as we moved along the quay in the fresh darkness
spangled by the quay lights, reflected in the black water of the little port on
our left hand, and with lofty piles of hotels on our right, that she spoke.
"That was Sophia Antonovna--you know the woman?. . . ."
"Yes, I know--the famous. . . ."
"The same. It appears that after we went out Peter Ivanovitch told them why I
had come. That was the reason she ran out after us. She named herself to me,
and then she said, 'You are the sister of a brave man who shall be remembered.
You may see better times.' I told her I hoped to see the time when all this
would be forgotten, even if the name of my brother were to be forgotten too.
Something moved me to say that, but you understand?"
"Yes," I said. "You think of the era of concord and justice."
"Yes. There is too much hate and revenge in that work. It must be done. It
is a sacrifice--and so let it be all the greater. Destruction is the work of
anger. Let the tyrants and the slayers be forgotten together, and only the
reconstructors be remembered.''
"And did Sophia Antonovna agree with you?" I asked sceptically.
"She did not say anything except, 'It is good for you to believe in love.' I
should think she understood me. Then she asked me if I hoped to see Mr.
Razumov presently. I said I trusted I could manage to bring him to see my
mother this evening, as my mother had learned of his being here and was
morbidly impatient to learn if he could tell us something of Victor. He was
the only friend of my brother we knew of, and a great intimate. She said, 'Oh!
Your brother--yes. Please tell Mr. Razumov that I have made public the story
which came to me from St. Petersburg. It concerns your brother's arrest,' she
added. 'He was betrayed by a man of the people who has since hanged himself.
Mr. Razumov will explain it all to you. I gave him the full information this
afternoon. And please tell Mr. Razumov that Sophia Antonovna sends him her
greetings. I am going away early in the morning--far away.'"
And Miss Haldin added, after a moment of silence-" I was so moved by what I
heard so unexpectedly that I simply could not speak to you before. . . . A man
of the people! Oh, our poor people!"
She walked slowly, as if tired out suddenly. Her head drooped; from the
windows of a building with terraces and balconies came the banal sound of hotel
music; before the low mean portals of the Casino two red posters blazed under
the electric lamps, with a cheap provincial effect.--and the emptiness of the
quays, the desert aspect of the streets, had an air of hypocritical
respectability and of inexpressible dreariness.
I had taken for granted she had obtained the address, and let myself be guided
by her. On the Mont Blanc bridge, where a few dark figures seemed lost in the
wide and long perspective defined by the lights, she said--
"It isn't very far from our house. I somehow thought it couldn't be. The
address is Rue de Carouge. I think it must be one of those big new houses for
She took my arm confidingly, familiarly, and accelerated her pace. There was
something primitive in our proceedings. We did not think of the resources of
civilization. A late tramcar overtook us; a row of _fiacres_ stood by the
railing of the gardens. It never entered our heads to make use of these
conveyances. She was too hurried, perhaps, and as to myself--well, she had
taken my arm confidingly. As we were ascending the easy incline of the
Corraterie, all the shops shuttered and no light in any of the windows (as if
all the mercenary population had fled at the end of the day), she said
"I could run in for a moment to have a look at mother. It would not be much
out of the way."
I dissuaded her. If Mrs. Haldin really expected to see Razumov that night it
would have been unwise to show herself without him. The sooner we got hold of
the young man and brought him along to calm her mother's agitation the better.
She assented to my reasoning, and we crossed diagonally the Place de Theatre,
bluish grey with its floor of slabs of stone, under the electric light, and the
lonely equestrian statue all black in the middle. In the Rue de Carouge we
were in the poorer quarters and approaching the outskirts of the town. Vacant
building plots alternated with high, new houses. At the corner of a side
street the crude light of a whitewashed shop fell into the night, fan-like,
through a wide doorway. One could see from a distance the inner wall with its
scantily furnished shelves, and the deal counter painted brown. That was the
house. Approaching it along the dark stretch of a fence of tarred planks, we
saw the narrow pallid face of the cut angle, five single windows high, without
a gleam in them, and crowned by the heavy shadow of a jutting roof slope.